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Stayin' Alive With The Iron Butterfly, Imelda Marcos

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It's pretty safe to say that when most folks think of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos and her legendary shoe collection takes centre-stage. In terms of Filipino pop-culture history, it's not surprising that she overshadows her cold-blooded dictator husband -- anybody remember what's his name? Even international best-selling Irish chick-lit author Marian Keyes has coined shoe-addicted women as Imeldas in her novels and essays.

The latest homage to the Iron Butterfly -- a not-so tender moniker for Madame Marcos's delicate yet ruthless disposition -- is a disturbingly catchy, if not kitschy project spearheaded by Talking Heads frontman, David Byrne.

Together with Fatboy Slim, the duo has created an ambitious disco-inspired musical opera, Here Lies Love that tells of the rise and fall -- and the second frightening rise -- of the former first lady.

Directed by two-time Tony nominee, Alex Timbers and bedazzled with disco balls and a generous garnishing of Studio 54 decadence, Here Lies Love will make its Off-Broadway debut in the spring of 2013 at The Public Theatre.

The musical tribute of course, has spurred anger from former martial law victims and families of the nearly 800 disappeared whose bodies have yet to be recovered and brought to justice.

During former president Ferdinand Marcos' almost two decade tyranny (1972-1986), human rights organizers were killed daily and 35,000 activists -- many youth and students -- were tortured. While the dictator burgled the national treasury -- an estimated $5-$10 billion US -- and ground his country into malnourishment and poverty, the former first lady lived in extravagance, gliding in Prada heels while flirting with the strongmen of the age such as Ronald Reagan and Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi.

This is on top of the $5 million shopping sprees in Europe, the combined $120 million New York properties, the Honolulu estate and the 175 piece art collection which included works by Michealangelo and Botticelli.

imelda
Former first lady Imelda Marcos is seen in Manila in January 2012. (AP Photo/Pat Roque)

To make matters worse, Here Lies Love not only glorifies the Iron Butterfly's Cinderella story -- she was the barrio beauty born into poverty who became the most powerful and narcissistic woman of the archipelago -- but threatens to romanticize martial law and its militaristic orders.

Such orders included an imposed curfew where anyone caught walking around after sundown was arbitrarily arrested and sadly, is the inspiration for the song Order 1081: "Now it's safe to walk the streets at night--a new world has begun. Everybody's sleeping soundly--thanks to Proclamation 1081."

Forty years after the anniversary of the Proclamation of Martial Law, it is undoubtedly a new world where, unfortunately, in the Philippines, the dinosauric Marcos dynasty still reigns supreme: daughter Imee is governor of Ilocos Norte and son Ferdinand "Bongbong" Jr. is currently a senator gunning for presidency much like his late father.

It is also a world where Filipinos have forgotten a dark period that took place not too long ago. "We forget easily" is a common Filipino attribute and the misplaced veneration on the Iron Butterfly -- even if it is satirical fluff -- is an example of this vulnerable cultural trait.

The upside to all this sparkly mayhem is that far beyond the musical tribute, the Iron Butterfly will forever be etched as a frou-frou caricature of the carnival-esque history of the Philippines. What may actually do the former first lady in as the ultimate Pacific Island Laughingstock is what she would like on her tombstone: Here Lies Love.

The OMG-I-can't-believe-she-said-THAT Quotable Imelda Marcos:
(Yes, she really, said these things.)

1. I did not have 3,000 pairs of shoes; I had 1,060.

2. Doesn't the fight for survival also justify swindle and theft? In self-defence, anything goes.

3. Win or lose, we go shopping after the election.

4. I have a very different way of thinking. I think synergistically. I'm not linear thinking, I'm not very logical.

5. I hate ugliness. You know, I'm allergic to ugliness.

6. What's wrong with shoes? I collected them because it was like a symbol of thanksgiving and love.

7. They call me corrupt, frivolous. I am not at all privileged. Maybe the only privileged thing is my face. And corrupt? God! I would not look like this if I am corrupt. Some ugliness would settle down on my system.

8. I was born ostentatious. They will list my name in the dictionary someday. They will use "Imeldific" to mean ostentatious extravagance.

9. The only gold my husband has is his heart.

10. If you know how rich you are, you are not rich. But me, I am not aware of the extent of my wealth. That's how rich we are.

11. People say that I am extravagant because I want to be surrounded by beauty. But tell me, who wants to be surrounded by garbage? Beauty is love made real and the spirit of love is God. Only a crazy man wants to be surrounded by garbage, and I'm not crazy just yet.

12. We practically own everything in the Philippines.

13. I understand my people better than anyone. I study them all time and even conduct experiments.

14. My husband does not want me to give interviews because I say too much. No talk, no trouble.

15. I was not Marie-Antoinette. I was not born to nobility, but I had a human right to nobility.

16. If garbage affects us, then there must be something wrong with us.

17. Why should people be afraid that we use a few small pellets of uranium at the nuclear power plant in Bataan? Don't they know that we're surrounded by uranium? We have the world's fourth largest deposits of uranium. Yes, we're all radioactive--must be the reason why we have so many faith healers.

18. Filipinos want beauty. I have to look beautiful so that the poor Filipinos will have a star to look at from their slums.

19. If you know how much you've got, you probably haven't got much.

20. The Philippines is where Asia wears a smile. Beautiful products can only be made by happy people.